THE Munster Junior Club football final between Beaufort and Dromtarriffe in December was almost a mirror image of the 2017 final between Knocknagree and Dromid Pearses.
Both were superbly entertaining games, played with a high skill level, and only decided by one score after extra-time as the mid-winter darkness closed in.
Kerry teams have absolutely dominated that competition but Dromtarriffe were unlucky not to replicate Knocknagree’s achievement 12 months earlier when finally stemming Kerry’s dominance of the competition.
Unlike Knocknagree, Dromtarriffe have a strong hurling tradition but there were still numerous similarities between the journeys of both clubs during those two seasons. Both lost the Duhallow divisional football final to Boherbue but both managed to come through and win the county junior title in 2017 and 2018.
Technically, Knocknagree and Dromtarriffe would have been the 64th ranked club in Cork football in 2017 and 2018 (although they would be much higher than that ranking, while it also doesn’t take Divisions into consideration) given that there were 63 senior, Premier Intermediate, and Intermediate teams ahead of them in Cork.
Yet Dromid Pearses and Beaufort were, in theory, the 25th best club in Kerry in 2017 and 2018, considering there were 24 (not taking Divisions into account) senior and Intermediate clubs ahead of them in senior and Intermediate.
That statistic alone proves the volume of quality footballers in Cork and makes it even more difficult to reconcile Cork’s chronic underachievement at inter-county level. On the other hand, that hasn’t exactly just happened in recent years because Cork football at senior level has been underachieving for over 100 years.
There are a million complex reasons as to why but referring back to Dromtarriffe is as good a starting point as any. Conor O’Callaghan was outstanding in that Junior final.
He is good enough to play senior football for Cork. In realistic terms, O’Callaghan’s pathway should be straightforward, especially when hailing from a football dominated division, but it isn’t.
Because O’Callaghan is an extremely talented hurler, good enough to play with the Cork seniors.
The dual issue is a major reason why Cork football has struggled so much in recent seasons. It’s almost impossible to be a dual county minor anymore considering how taxing the Munster hurling round-robin championship is.
And yet, despite all those obstacles, the only county which has really threatened Kerry’s domination of the minor championship over the last five years has been Cork.
Cork may have beaten Kerry in 2015 and 2018 (when they lost to Kerry by one point) if the dual issue wasn’t such an impediment. Yet the flipside to that debate is that there are so many players within the county that Cork should not need to be as reliant on the dual players as they have been.
On page 10 of #2024 ‘A five year plan for Cork Football’, released this week, the dual issue is briefly listed in section 4. Under the sub-heading of Cork as a dual county, the implications states that in many clubs, ‘at least 50% of game time is devoted to the other code’.
There is no great revelation in that line but the fact that so little in the report focuses on such a huge issue effecting Cork football underlines just how vast the challenge is in trying to alter the culture towards the game.
One of the key visions of the report is to create a clear player pathway, and to produce a regular supply of county footballers within the next five years. The players are there.
The aims and plans within the report should assist in those wider goals but the structures at club, county and administrative levels need to ensure that pathway is cleared for those players to fully prosper and develop.
Club structures will need to change. On a wider scale, key appointments are huge pillars of the plan because they will facilitate the proper co-ordination required to make this work. There are seven proposed new roles; a High Performance Director, Project Co-ordinator, Media Relations manager, Junior administrator, Talent Development manager, along with two GDAs.
That is a big undertaking but filling those roles, and with the right people, will underline just how serious Cork are about making this work.
Changing the culture of Cork football is – the report states - “our greatest challenge”. That is as much a way of thinking as a way of doing but whatever Cork have been doing, it isn’t working.
In section 6, titled ‘Our Strategy’, the report states that while many of the objectives are major departures from their current practises, the committee that put the report together – Conor Counihan, Graham Canty, Brian Cuthbert, and Tracey Kennedy – believe that they are necessary to deliver the vision of this plan.
To reaffirm their conviction of a new way, the report quotes Albert Einstein. “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
Cork need to produce more skilful and polished footballers but one of the biggest challenges will be trying to change such a fixed mindset towards the game in the county. Transforming “apathy into interest” is how the report describes it.
Cork football has always had a poor support base but reconnecting – or even connecting full-stop – with the Cork GAA public will only really begin when the senior teams begins to give the supporters something to shout about again.
The public needs to believe more in Cork football but a new way needs a new attitude towards football in Cork. “The time has come to stand up and be counted,” states the report.
The seeds of Cork’s projected five-year will need time to come to fruition but any significant crop will only be fully harvested if everyone pulls up their sleeves and digs in.